Duke Energy and Gov. McCrory ignored CDC cancer-risk estimate for polluted well water
In the latest development in the ongoing contaminated water crisis affecting hundreds of NC families, a new report shows that Gov. McCrory's administration ignored the cancer-risk estimate recommendations for known carcinogen Hexavalent Chromium. This is just another sign that Gov. McCrory is more interested in helping his former employer, Duke Energy, than families in our state who are drinking toxic water.
The McCrory administration turned its back on a cancer-risk threshold that had been approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the state’s effort to screen well water near Duke Energy coal ash basins for contaminants, according to a deposition by State Epidemiologist Megan Davies released last week.
The threshold underpinned the do-not-drink letters that were issued in 2015 — and rescinded a year later — by state health officials to well owners.
State scientists such as Kenneth Rudo, Mina Shehee and Sandy Mort helped calculate a level of 0.07 parts per billion to screen for hexavalent chromium, one of the more potent contaminants associated with coal ash because of its link to stomach cancer.
They did so because the state legislature passed a law in 2014, after the Dan River coal ash spill, requiring that wells near Duke Energy coal ash basins be screened for a host of contaminants, including hexavalent chromium. There was no federal or state standard specific to hexavalent chromium, so they formulated a screening level based on state water rules: The screening level must carry a lifetime cancer risk of 1 in 1 million.
Ideally, water should contain no hexavalent chromium, environmental advocates say, but the level of 0.07 parts per billion is considered health-protective. Well owners such as Amy Brown in Belmont, near Duke Energy’s Allen power plant, would face a lifetime cancer risk of 1 in 1 million if the concentration of hexavalent chromium met that level. The chances would be even slimmer if the concentration were smaller.
Brown’s water showed a concentration of hexavalent chromium of 2.2 parts per billion.
Samples taken from other well owners run even higher.
By comparison, public water provided by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg utility to people who live near Brown shows an average concentration of 0.067 parts per billion, according to a review of data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It isn’t clear what risk of cancer 2.2 parts per billion poses, but, according to Davies’ testimony, the risk rises steeply as the concentration exceeds 0.07 parts per billion. According to Davies’ testimony, a level of 0.70 parts per billion carries a lifetime risk of 1 in 100,000.
“Why is it so hard to get these people to want to protect us?” asked Brown, referring to state government. “When did it become acceptable in this state to ignore the cries of a mother for her children?”